By Cara DiPaolo
is it about the holidays that makes us temporarily forget how misguided
the concept of family togetherness is? Are we all so highly suggestible
that the media with its perpetually playing Wonderful Lifes
and Miracle on 34th Streets actually makes us believe that
we, too, have a warm, loving family where people with smooth hair
and fabulously tailored ensembles welcome us home with tears of
joy? Are we forgetting what our families look like? Maybe if we'd
bothered to get last year's Christmas photos developed we would've
noticed that in every picture our wild-haired, sweat-pant clad loved
ones are either asleep or mid-argument. We might recall that the
tears on our little nieces and nephews faces are not tears of joy,
but of resentment over getting the green flashing toothbrush instead
of the RED one.
no, whenever the holidays roll around we somehow get it into our
thick little heads that being together will be fun, possibly
the most fun we'll have all year. I can't wait to see you! we
all say excitedly, forgetting that last year after a few days of
living under the same roof with those same people, we were ready
to rip their legs off and beat them over the head with them. We
giddily pack our perfumes and ties, our good jewelry and a series
of fancy outfits conveniently misremembering that during past holiday
vacations we never once left the house or our pajamas, or even took
a shower for that matter. How can we keep fooling ourselves, year
after year after year? It's a baffling phenomenon.
year for Christmas my parents decided to rent a rural lakeside house
in Bucksnort, Tennessee for a week of familial bonding. Why Bucksnort,
you say? Why not Nashville or Memphis or better yet, some place
where fringe doesn't constitute formal wear? "It's cheap,
kiddo," my dad explained, "Plus, this place has
a bed that hangs from the ceiling and swings!" Yee. Haw.
my husband Andrew wanted to see his family before being forcibly
incarcerated with mine, we flew to our mutual home state of Maryland
and made plans to drive to Tennessee with my parents. Now you'd
think that a minivan that seats ten people and can fit a tiger in
its trunk would be big enough for four people and week's worth of
luggage. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.
parents are excessive people. Everything about them is too much-from
their giant, oversized barcaloungers to their giant, oversized sweatpants,
to their giant, oversized guffaws -- they have never understood
the concept of understated. This, of course, trickles into their
buying habits. My parents worship at the temple of Costco. They
buy things in one size, XX-bulk. And if there's a sale of any kind,
whether they need it or not, they buy it by the truckload. My dad
once bought 39 jars of peanut butter because they were on sale 3
for $10. "What a deal, Hon! I mean, you can't beat that!"
my dad said, proudly describing how he bought out the stock
from five different grocery stores. I think, all in all, he saved
a total of $5.00. Less gas, of course
and if you don't take
into account that he spent $130.00 to begin with... and that he
bought the smooth peanut butter instead of the chunky that we all
for the two day drive to Bucksnort, Andrew and I found ourselves
tightly wedged in amidst a wealth of bulky, cheaply bought items-many
of them wrapped up, not so discreetly, as Christmas presents-the
vague outline of a can of WD-40 here, the tell-tale sound of cereal
rattling in boxes there. That's also been a long-standing tradition
in the DiPaolo household. Not having the storage or really the need
for half the items they get "great deals" on, my parents
got in the habit of disguising said items as presents. I distinctly
remember a surprise birthday party in my early teens when I unwrapped
a five-gallon tub of Noxzema in front of a roomful of my friends.
It was one of those character-defining moments you never forget.
I had that Noxzema all the way up into my junior year of college.
car ride was relatively uneventful. For most of the drive down we
followed my sister, Rita, and thus had the privilege of hearing
many loud, breathy renditions of yuletide carols as sung by my tuneless
niece and nephews over the CB radios my parents bought for inter-car
communication. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Had a very shiny
nose. Like a light bulb!! Luckily, my dad had filled the radios
with cheap generic batteries he got on sale, so we only had to suffer
for an hour or so.
some miracle of fate we all arrived at the rural house in Bucksnort
around the same time. My brother Mike and his wife had flown in
with their two young boys and pulled up in their rental just as
we were beginning to unload the cars. None of us kids were expecting
much from this place. This wasn't the first family getaway trip
my parents had put together and we had learned the hard way that
brochure photos could not be trusted. But I had to admit that at
least from the outside, the house pretty much resembled its advertised
image. Yes, there were an inordinate amount of lawn jockeys, and
some cigarette-filled ashtrays lined the front walk, but they were
evenly spaced apart. And to be fair, the pile of empty beer cans
in the tall planter by the front door actually looked kind of nice
-- like a colorful aluminum welcoming torch.
entering, however, we were greeted by a shocking sight. Mounted
on the wall opposite us was a massive hissing tiger, frozen mid-leap
and staring down at us hungrily from atop his rocky perch. The kids
scattered, shrieking with fear. But that wasn't even the scariest
thing in the room. Displayed on standing easels by the living room
fireplace were two life-sized photos -- one of a baby floating eerily
in a sea of black, below which "Destiny" was written in
fanciful gold-lettering; the other, of a smiling mullet-haired boy
holding up the sagging head of a recently slaughtered deer -- which
appeared to be tracking my every move with its dead glazed eyes.
room seemed to have its own theme. If the living room's theme was
creepy life-sized family photos, the two upstairs bedrooms' themes
were basketballs and enormous porcelain dogs. Downstairs in the
master bedroom, where the infamous swinging bed was located -- the
theme was simply tacky. It had mirrored walls, a mirrored ceiling
and even mirrored bedside tables on which plastic flowers and heart-shaped
candles rested and reflected into infinity. On the one non-mirrored
wall, hung faded framed photographs of clinking champagne glasses
in the glinting light of a dissolving sun and a solitary sailboat
out at sea in the glinting light of a dissolving sun and finally,
just a picture of the glinting light of a dissolving sun.
usual, Andrew and I being the only couple without kids got the cheap
end of the bedroom stick otherwise known as the porch. That first
night as we struggled for several hours to find a cushiony spot
on the cracker thin futon mattress, we became aware of the winds.
Though the porch was, thankfully, enclosed, its windowed walls lacked
the insulation necessary to keep out the blistering December air.
Try as we might to find warmth beneath the whimsical basketball
quilt my sister kindly gave us from off her bed, it became evident
that we'd need heat from the master bedroom to which the porch was
attached-the one my parents were occupying.
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